Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Crazy Heart, Dull Story

There’s a strong possibility that Crazy Heart will finally give the accomplished yet underrated Jeff Bridges his first Oscar. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, the fallen country star Bad Blake is tolerable because Bridges can find the humor in a lonely, pathetic situation. What’s more, he effectively balances a deteriorating physical condition with an unwavering talent. But too often the film falls back on shots of Blake’s fat gut or scenes of him weeping over broken whiskey bottles. Some will call them dull; others will call them Oscar moments.

It’s a conventional story: a broken-down drunk rides his broken-down truck through a series of small-venue bars scrounging what little cash (and ass) past fame can afford him. He meets a woman named Jean who’s way too hot for him and he’s off on the road to redemption. That Maggie Gyllenhaal - as the single-mother Jean - is about 30 years younger than Bridges is beside the point. It worked last year in The Wrestler. Marissa Tomei connected with Mickey Rourke as failed parents and through shared experiences as showpieces. It also didn’t hurt that Rourke had a six-pack.

In Crazy Heart, Jean seems to fall in love with Blake due to that undying female instinct to save a man who needs saved. That, or she possesses a crystal ball that shows Blake eventually bonding with her toddler son. Gyllenhaal gives a solid performance, but the script doesn't give her much beyond a role as Blake’s love interest. Nor does it spend enough time on the relationship between Blake and Tommy (Colin Farrell), a headliner who offers his mentor a life raft by commissioning him to write a few songs. We learn that the two had a falling out, but the rift and its speedy resolution lessens the complication.

First-time writer/director Scott Cooper reduces Jean and Tommy to stepping stones for Blake’s road to sobriety. The road offers no alternative destination and plods through several obligatory scenes, and it’s to the actors’ credit that the film remains engaging. Additionally, the original music by T-Bone Burnet and Stephen Bruton is pitch-perfect, never sounding too on the nose, compensating for lags within the story.

I am a big Jeff Bridges fan. The Dude is obviously a cultural staple, but my favorite was his high school football star in The Last Picture Show, an understated portrayal of a guy who loses his sense of masculinity. Such performances are why Bridges has remained underrated despite accruing 4 Oscar nods. He delivers again here, but it’s disappointing to see him possibly nabbing the gold for a weaker film that seems like Oscar bait.

Oh, well. As Martin Scorsese knows, sometimes Oscars are career achievement awards.


Cake Man said...

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I disliked Crazy Heart, but I certainly had some issues with it. Jeff Bridges is great, that's undeniable. And he really did an impressive job with all the singing, too.

My two biggest complaints were these: for one, there's a lot of music in this movie. A lot. And I don't mean soundtrack; I mean, viewers watch a lot of concerts in venues of all sizes, concerts that last a full song or two on screen. While there obviously should be a lot of music in a film like this, I couldn't help but feel that almost a quarter of the film's run-time was spent on musical acts that really weren't furthering the story. In a movie like Ray or Walk the Line, there are a lot of performances also. But every single one of them managed to further the story. We saw Cash's destructive behavior coinciding with his rise to stardom in "Walk" and each performance conveyed something about the character at that time. The musical scenes in Crazy Heart fell more flat to me. It was as if the audience was asked to listen to the lyrics, since they couldn't get much out of Jeff Bridges standing still and holding a guitar, and few people really listen to what the lyrics are trying to say. There's one exceptional exception to this - a large concert scene with Tommy and Bad on stage together - that breaks the rule in this film. For the most part, the music numbers were not really driving things forward, and because of that, felt like wasted space.

The second problem I had was what Backer referenced - the feud with Tommy. Bad Blake is adamant about not playing with Tommy that we almost expect some major, destructive, life changing blow-out to have happened between them. What we get as an excuse is nowhere near strong enough to earn the payoff that's been set up. More disappointing is that as soon as the two men are reunited, it's as if all that history is gone. Barely even mentioned. I'd have liked more, since I was being reinforced to expect something more.

Anonymous said...

Actually, that would be the late (great) Stephen Bruten. :(